Number of dementia cases by 2040 could be shockingly higher than estimates predicted

LONDON — The number of people living with dementia could be over 40 percent higher by 2040 than previous estimates have predicted, a new study warns.

The study, conducted by a team at University College London (UCL), estimates that as many as 1.7 million individuals could be dealing with the disease in the United Kingdom alone by the year 2040. Overall, researchers say dementia prevalence could be 42 percent higher than prior studies have been preparing for in the future.

Previously, analysis of data from before 2010 had led experts to believe that dementia cases were actually on the decline in affluent nations. However, this latest research presents a different picture, indicating a marked increase in dementia cases in the U.K. since 2008. This trend seems to disproportionately affect those who did worse academically during their time in school.

As a consequence, scientists now anticipate a future with significantly more dementia cases, a prediction that extends beyond the implications of an aging population.

Previous projections estimated a 57-percent increase in dementia cases, from 0.77 million in 2016 to 1.2 million in 2040 across the U.K. specifically. However, the UCL team suggests that this figure could reach as high as 1.7 million, almost doubling the number of cases reported this year.

“It is shocking to think that the number of people living with dementia by 2040 may be up to 70% higher than if dementia incidence had continued to decline,” says lead author Dr. Yuntao Chen from the UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care in a media release.

“Not only will this have a devastating effect on the lives of those involved but it will also put a considerably larger burden on health and social care than current forecasts predict. Continued monitoring of the incidence trend will be crucial in shaping social care policy.”

Memory, dementia
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While rising dementia cases are often linked to more and more people living longer, experts discovered that the disease is becoming increasingly prevalent within older age groups.

“Our research has exposed that dementia is likely to be a more urgent policy problem than previously recognized – even if the current trend continues for just a few years,” adds principal investigator Professor Eric Brunner.

“We have found that not only is the ageing population a major driver of the trend in England and Wales but also the number of people developing dementia within older age groups is increasing. We don’t know how long this pattern will continue but the UK needs to be prepared so we can ensure that everyone affected, whatever their financial circumstances, is able to access the help and support that they need.”

The research team analyzed nine datasets, focusing on individuals over 50 years of age residing in private households in England from 2002 to 2019. They noted a 28.8-percent reduction in dementia cases from 2002 to 2008, followed by a 25.2-percent increase from 2008 to 2016. This pattern held true across various demographics, including age, sex, and level of educational attainment. However, they also observed a slower decline in dementia cases among those with lower educational attainment from 2002 to 2008, followed by a sharper rise in the same demographic from 2008 to 2016.

“Dementia is the biggest health and social care issue of our time. Statistics from this Lancet Public Health study are a stark reminder that, without action, the individual and economic devastation caused by dementia shows no sign of stopping,” says James White, the Alzheimer’s Society’s Head of National Influencing.

“We know that one in three people born in the UK today will develop this terminal condition in their lifetime. With prevalence on the rise, improving diagnosis has never been more important. Everyone living with dementia must have access to a timely, accurate and specific diagnosis, and who you are or where you live should have no bearing on this,” White concludes.

“The figures also make it clear that pressure on our already struggling social care system is only going to increase. Quality social care can make a huge difference to people’s lives, but we know that people with dementia – who are the biggest users of social care – are struggling with a care system that’s costly, difficult to access, and too often not tailored to their needs.”

The findings are published in The Lancet Public Health.

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South West News Service writer Pol Allingham contributed to this report.

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